All smokers and ex-smokers aged 55-74 will have their risk of cancer assessed in England’s first-ever national lung cancer screening programme.
The programme will be based on the Targeted Lung Health Check Programme, which has been piloted in parts of England.
Under the plans, which will cost £270m annually once fully implemented, GP records will be used to identify patients for screening.
The first phase of the scheme will reach 40% of the eligible population by March 2025 with the aim of 100% coverage by March 2030, the government’s announcement said.
Patients will have their risk of cancer assessed based on their smoking history and other factors and those considered high risk will be invited for specialist scans every two years.
How will the screening work?
Anyone assessed as being at high risk of lung cancer will be referred to have a low dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) scan and subsequent diagnosis and treatment if needed. Those whose scans are negative will be reinvited for further scans every 24 months, until they pass the upper age limit.
Some people who test negative but are found to have nodules will be reinvited for more frequent scans. These nodules are often the first signs of cancer developing so by monitoring more frequently if they turn cancerous they can be delt with quickly and at the early stages.
Source: Department of Health and Social Care
It is estimated the rollout will mean 325,000 people will be eligible for a first scan each year with 992,000 scans expected per year in total.
The UK National Screening Committee recommended in November that all four nations in the UK should implement a national lung cancer screening programme.
It said the TLHC programme would be a ‘practical starting point’ for implementation in England while a UK-wide programme needed ‘more modelling’.
During the pilots, approximately 70% of the screening took place in mobile units to ‘ensure easy access’ and ‘focused on more deprived areas where people are four times more likely to smoke’.
Almost 900,000 people were invited for checks, 375,000 risk assessments made and 200,000 scans were carried out.
Out of these, more than 2,000 people were detected as having cancer, 76% at an earlier stage compared to 29% in 2019 outside of the programme.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: ‘The NHS lung trucks programme is already delivering life-changing results, with people living in the most deprived areas now more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier stage, giving them a better chance of successful treatment.’
She added: ‘If you receive an invitation, please do take it up, and if you are worried about a possible symptom of cancer, please come forward to your GP – getting checked could save your life.’
Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘Through our screening programme we are now seeing more diagnoses at stage 1 and stage 2 in the most deprived communities which is both a positive step and a practical example of how we are reducing health inequalities.
‘Rolling this out further will prolong lives by catching cancer earlier and reducing the levels of treatment required not just benefiting the patient but others waiting for treatment.
‘I am determined to combat cancer on all fronts through better prevention, detection, treatment and research.’
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: ‘Rolling out screening to high-risk 55-74 year olds will save lives by detecting up to 9,000 lung cancers a year at an early stage.
‘The NHS has treated record numbers of cancer patients over the last two years, with cancer being diagnosed at an earlier stage more often and survival rates improving across almost all types of cancer.
‘[This] announcement will help us go further and provide a lifeline to thousands of families across the country.’